The Evil Within plays like a best of the last generation. Now That’s What I Call Video Games! It’s very hard to look at any element of it and not think “This is from that” That can be from any number big budget games of the PS360 era or Director Shinji Mikami’s past works. Each reference is calculated and well executed. The fault here is there is almost no glue to the whole experience. The well executed pieces have nothing connecting them to one another. There is only a non-story.
I’ll say this about The Evil Within, best corpse stomping since Dead Space. I hated Dead Space by the way. It also tried to be a horror action game after Resident Evil 4 changed everything. The horror part of the equation is something jumped out and tried to kill you in every single room every single time. Horror and fear comes from the unexpected. That it happened every time quickly killed any fear the game had. It also had you jumping around a spaceship that was broken up into individual levels. The ship was constantly breaking, but the tram system never failed.
Then there was the main character’s corpse stomp button. At any time you could press a button to cause the main character to scream and stomp on a corpse. It served a purpose because the monsters some times came back from the dead. Better to be OCD than DOA. Within two hours of the game starting, I wondered if there was something wrong with the game makers. The first time I corpse stomped I felt invincible. The second time forward I laughed because it is ridiculous. This and many other features made me think the the developers might be psychopaths.
Then Shinji Mikami looked at his development team and went, “I like that corpse stomping, put it in.”
I’ll say this about The Evil Within, there’s a guy with a chainsaw. Everyone knows the first part of Resident Evil 4. In which you fight endlessly spawning villagers before a guy with a chainsaw shows up. You might be able to spend all your ammo on killing him. If he gets close he’s going to kill you, he does have a chainsaw. Eventually a bell goes off and everyone leaves. You are left wondering what is going on with this village? Why did they all leave? Where do you need to go from here? You’ll also return to the village later. Giving it a sense of place and location and familiarity.
In The Evil Within, you’ll have to kill a man with a chainsaw in a quaint village setting. You’ll take his CHAINSAW and use it to cut a CHAIN. Then our hero will throw away the chainsaw, where it disappears instantly. If this wasn’t the only thing you could do, you’d be screaming about the adventure game logic. It’s also possible to miss one of the most crucial weapons in your arsenal here. The agony crossbow. As a loading screen states:
If you have trap parts you can make bolts for your agony crossbow in your inventory.
There are traps everywhere. Some just slow you down, often most kill you outright. You can also try to disarm them. But you have only a 2 second chance to disarm them, or they’ll still kill you instantly. The chainsaw man in RE4 was so threatening everytime he appeared because he could kill you instantly. Through The Evil Within is an enemy in every area that can kill you instantly. They vary in their ability to kill you instantly. But the game is often asking you to perform obnoxious stealth kills. The game isn’t tight enough for this stealth action because the enemy layouts often intersect at your only opportunity to sneak pass or stealth kill. You can then run and hide. Or do what i did for almost every stealth portion of the game: scream “Screw it!” and run through the area. Just getting lucky avoiding every enemy worked better than trying to stealth kill.
Because the next area would probably just lock me in a room and tell me to kill everything. Sometimes those everythings were those things that kill you instantly. Often times it is a large thing charging. You do not have a dodge button. The camera does not support strafing or moving in one direction and cameraing in another.
Shinji Mikami wanted the game to be more cinematic, this meant it had to be letterboxed.
I’ll say this about The Evil Within, It sure is in 16X9. That’s right it is letterboxed on your HDTV! It only took 4 hours of me playing to start ignoring the black bars on the top and bottom of my screen I couldn’t use. Because of years of playing video games, those black bars imply cutscene, going back to full screen means player agency. Several times through the game I was given player agency and died in a two second window because it did not communicate to me that I had been given agency back.
This made me think about Godhand. Godhand had that supertight close to the back of the character. So did Resident Evil 4. All three of these games are in some way by Shinji Mikami. It wasn’t a problem of RE4 and Godhand. Here the camera was in the way. I was fighting it. I would die (114 times by the end game count) and have no idea where or what killed me. I was not filled with a need to try again. I was filled with a sigh at trying again.
At one point, you are in a slow moving lift while multiple guys throw dynamite Michael Jordan style into your lift. I died multiple times because the section came down to memorization of enemy placement and not execution and reaction. The camera is so tight on your character that it blocks the screen. combine that with the letterbox and you have very little visual real-estate. Despite it being a straight corridor I couldn’t see everything I needed to, trapped in a tiny slow moving box. So again I would die, not because I couldn’t perform but because I was shooting the wrong enemy, while the right one spawned and threw a three pointer right in my tiny basket.
Then Mikami looked at his development team, “You know all the dream stuff from Inception? Put that in.”
So weird stuff happens constantly in this game. I don’t mean interesting. I just mean stuff just happens throughout the entire experience and you don’t know why or what or how or huh? I beat the game. I couldn’t tell you the what or the bwah or the plot. Some of these weird effects are nice. When a room switches between to different environments instantly that looks fantastic. There is this wave effect that happens a lot. But the story and the world never tries to weigh itself in anything so I just reacted with apathy to everything. You quickly go from a mental hospital to dank cellar to the beginning of RE4.
There is a dream logic working through the whole game, but like a really weird dream you can’t describe it to anyone, and nothing makes sense. Except I’m given agency. I’m causing the forward momentum, theoretically. So the environment changes from one thing you do not know, to another thing you do not know. You are thrown from one place to another, it never feels like you are making progress.
Then sometimes you have a special instant kill enemy appears randomly right when you enter an area behind you. That means you have to run forward into whatever dangers there are, because at least those might not instantly kill you if you get close. Then you die because you’re running around twisted straight line environments and hit a dead end and outside of the instant kill enemy you got 4 other things now actively trying to murder you.
The worst part is this enemy most often appears in the one part of the game with a tiny bit of focus, where you are slowly exploring an area in the vein of Resident Evil. You don’t know what is behind each door. Luckily our hero can either slowly open each door or slam it open. This ultimately doesn’t matter.
The most iconic enemy that isn’t a rehash of something from Resident Evil 4 is a poor man’s Pyramid Head. He is introduced with great effect, but he has no weight. None of the environments or enemies hold strong emotional weight for the player, Sebastian, or the narrative. One enemy you’ll kill twice and then three hours later you’ll be introduced for the first time to their story. I wasn’t thinking about that enemy at that point, but they do decide to reintroduce them for a third fight.
For a game about horror, featuring gorgeously horrible environments, “scary” enemies and a constant chance of instant death, I never felt any tension. The game produced either apathy or frustration at an instant death. I was amazed at how nonplussed I was at everything. I just recently started playing Silent Hill 2 HD (2014 opinions coming soon) and for a game I know backwards and forwards it still produces dread and fear. The Evil Within does not have that.
It does not produce fear. It does not produce wonder and confusion. It does not cause awe in its environments. The enemies are almost all carbon copies of Resident Evil 4 enemies (including reusing animation amazingly.) Oh for a short bit you have fight completely invisible enemies in complete darkness in a tiny box. That part is pretty annoying. Thankfully they stop appearing and then never come back.
Shinji Mikami bursts into the room, “you know The Last of Us’s Pittsburgh? Let’s do that!”
The main problem with the entire game is that it picks and chooses all these elements from other games and puts them in competent but unremarkable. It does not introduce a new spin. Here is this thing from this game, here is this thing. Here is an idea to introduce and throw aside for something else. When it eventually pulls back the curtain there is nothing there.
I played on the PS3. It looked fantastic throughout. Actually comparing PS3 vs. PS4 I think I liked PS3 more. This opinion was formed by renting the game through Redbox for 4 dollars and sitting down and playing through the whole thing. Final game time was 16 hours. Closer to 20 hours of actual play time.